Master’s student Hannah Elliott was recently honored by two organizations for her involvement in student affairs. Elliott, a second-year student in the School of Education’s Student Affairs in Higher Education M.S. program, received the IV-West Graduate Student Rising Star Award from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and a scholarship from an international honors society.
NASPA is a national organization for the field of student affairs, organized into nine regions and global areas according to geography. The NASPA IV-West Graduate Student Rising Star Award recognizes five students across the NASPA Region IV-West who are actively involved in student affairs and intend to pursue a professional career in student affairs. Nominees must be serving as a graduate assistant, paraprofessional or intern, with a record of involvement and student leadership on campus.
“It was a huge surprise,” said Elliott. “I didn’t think that the work I was doing was recognizable past just doing my job, but as I’ve talked to more mentors, faculty members and supervisors, I’ve realized that there’s a lot of things that I center my work in that I should be proud of, including the way I prepare myself to do the work. I think it was a really big thing for me as a black woman who faces impostor syndrome daily to be able to say that I’m doing things that matter because I’m qualified and gifted and can really do this work.”
In addition to the award, Elliott recently won the Academic Pillar Scholarship from Chi Sigma Alpha, an international student affairs honor society. The $500 scholarship is awarded to a graduate student pursuing an advanced degree in student affairs with excellence.
“I applied for the Chi Sigma Alpha Academic Pillar scholarship and focused my application on how I see lifelong learning within and outside of academia as a crucial part of my role as a student affairs professional,” said Elliott.
In her scholarship application, Elliott said she planned to use the funds to cover student fees during her final semester.
“As a first-generation student from a lower income background, extra money is always appreciated to help pay bills and help my family,” she said. “This scholarship would allow me to set more money aside for my job search and relocation after graduate school, as I am looking to move to a new state.”
From the entertainment industry to student affairs
Originally intending to go into the entertainment industry, Elliott attended California State University Fullerton as a communications major with an emphasis in entertainment and tourism and a minor in American studies. Even while focusing on entertainment, Elliott found herself involved with undergraduate student affairs as a resident assistant and member of the Resident Hall Association. Still, it wasn’t until she began applying for jobs after graduation that she began to consider student affairs as a potential career.
“After I graduated, I applied for entertainment jobs as well as entry-level student affairs positions,” said Elliott. “None of the entertainment jobs I was seeing really lit a passion inside of me, whereas the student-affairs-type jobs were a lot more enticing and spoke more towards what I find my purpose to be – empowering people and their purpose, and making sure they feel validated and supported.”
Before attending the SAHE program, Elliott worked at a for-profit university during a six-month period.
“That presented a lot of ethical dilemmas for me,” she said. “It was a lot of capitalizing on marginalized students, specifically adult-learner students, students who were parents, students from lower incomes – some of them all three of those things. During my first few weeks, I realized that I couldn’t stay in the for-profit world and that I couldn’t work in corporate America. I needed to go back to a traditional university setting, and luckily enough, I got into the SAHE program.”
A passion for all
Involved in university housing, sorority and fraternity life, and working as a student affairs office’s graduate assistant, Elliott is no stranger to campus involvement and leadership.
“I have a passion for student support and student success on a broad level,” said Elliott. “To me, that means ensuring that students have a sense of belonging on campus and understand their purpose – even if it’s not connected to a career – once they leave their institution.”
Along with on-campus involvement, Elliott is focused on self-learning and engagement with different identities and issues to get involved with the entirety of the student affairs community.
“I try to make space to stay up to date on different identities and different issues that I’m not directly impacted by or don’t directly hold,” said Elliott. “I make sure to take time for self-education, knowing that I want to get more involved with the student affairs community as a whole. I want to make sure that I am educating myself on a regular basis to do that work intentionally, knowing that I’ll obviously make mistakes. I’m trying my best to not learn at the expense of others.”
What’s to come
Looking to the future, Elliott hopes to continue to reflect on her experiences and develop a career that embodies inclusivity and growth within student affairs.
“I’ll probably stay in housing for the first few years in my career,” she said, “but hopefully I’ll work my way up to higher administration to be a vice president of student affairs someday.”
The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.